There are two sets of information stored here. One is Hints for the writer that addresses information not necessarily applicable to the text or story itself and Writer Tips which does address text and story material.
Writer’s Hint 2: Every writer needs to look at his or her favorite time, place or method for writing. Writing is work and it has its own pace and demands that vary with every writer. I am a morning writer. I usually spend about three hours at the computer speed typing as I dive into whatever story I am creating. I don’t work from notes or outlines and I don’t generally take breaks. For me, it is as though the story already exists in my mind and I am just typing what I hear in my imgination.
However, I know many successful writers who spend hours a day laboring over the creation of scenes. They analyze every piece of dialogue, nit pick every scene and second guess every plot turn. There is nothing wrong with this approach if it is your approach.
Another writer I know has a certain bathrobe that is like a security blanket. She wrote better with it and had trouble without it. Another had to take a walk, rain or shine, before sitting down in front of the computer. Another one couldn’t write before midnight.
The point is every writer has a routine or place or time that is the magic key to when, where and how he or she writes. Pay attention to what works for you and use it. Writing is difficult on a good day. Don’t make it harder because you feel there is only one way to get the words on the page.
Writer’s Hint 1: Every writer has his or her own voice. Voice quite simply means the way you, the writer, tell your story. Your way of putting words together, describing scenes or characters, the addition of humor to defuse tension where another might use the tension to force a confrontation or the way you plot, weaving through mazes of conflict and problems to an expected ending which doesn’t turn out the way most readers would reasonably expect.
This is your voice. No one else can tell your story your way. So often, new writers or struggling writers look to other successful writers to find that one path to success, to acceptance, that shortcut to the top of the list. This struggling author finds some special way of describing a character, this special sentence structure and Wow this new trick will make my book work. Doubtful. For one thing, you may incorporate this new wording skill into the scenes of character creation but the rest of your work probably won’t match the rhythm or flow of the new technique. To use a simple analogy, put classical music with heavy metal. I don’t know about you but I would need ear plugs from the ear ringing noise and confusion of styles.
Instead of looking for a shortcut, look at your voice. Look at the way you put the words together. You will find sentences and phrases that please you but you will also find ones that do not. You have analyzed others now turn that same skill on yourself. The words that work are your strengths. The ones that do not are your weaknesses. Every writer has these. If you have a hundred books to your credit there is still more you can do. If you have none to your credit, the same is true.
It is not another writer’s voice that will take you to the top but your own. Your own when it is honed, when you have looked at your work and labored to give birth to your book your way, when you have polished the rough after hours of deleting and rewriting, then you will have that magic road to success. If there is a shortcut, it is rare often not a shortcut at all for the person who seems to possess it. How many stories have you heard about the ‘overnight success’ who is later discovered to have paid dues working at his craft, failing and trying again and again? Writing is work, as much inside the story itself as inside the writer. It is always your choice which path you choose to become the absolute best you can be.
Writer’s Tip 8: Creating a series I am often asked how I create a series. I am not really sure there is a single answer for this question. I have planned two series in my career and had more than that many grow out of the strength and appeal of a secondary character. I have also had a number of series within a series occur. But no matter how a series starts it should have a few basic elements to make it more memorable for the reader.
First, each book should contain enough detail that a reader can read the story without having a previous book beside them as they read in order to understand the list of characters, the geographic location or the history of the current story. In short, every book in a series should be able to stand alone.
This automatically brings up a big problem–Acquainting the new reader with the characters of the series without driving the recurring reader nuts with boredom as you, the writer, repeats information already stated. One way to avoid this issue is to make sure that the necessary repetition is delivered in a new way. For instance, don’t exactly describe a recurring character using the same words in book one as in book two or three. Be creative, no pun intended. If the man has black as a raven wing hair in book one, try ebony in book two and silky black in book three.
The next element needed is remembering what the personalities and locations are. Don’t change a woman who is a kind and sweet into an abrasive go getter without explaining the change. Equally don’t create a town with a town square and forget you had one in the next book. Keep a list of descriptions, characteristics for each character and, if necessary, make a geographic profile for your settings. Accuracy is important.
Finally, pay attention to your plot. Don’t recreate the first plot with different names in the second book, or the third or fourth. New book. New plot.
Writer’s Tip 7: Secondary characters Secondary characters are essential to every story, however a writer needs to pay close attention to the development of these characters. Some generate such interest and intensity that it is easy for them to take over the top spot reserved for the lead characters. Or the reverse can happen. The writer doesn’t create enough background, give enough information that the reader just loses interest and wonders why the character was included at all.
Writing secondary characters is really a balancing act to satisfy the needs of the story you are trying to tell and the depth the writer feels is necessary to make that character real for the reader. As far as I know there are no rules for balance. Each writer must fulfill his or her own vision of the story. However, when I write, I look at my tale during the rewrite process and pay attention to those characters I want to stand out the most. If I find that a secondary has more importance in my mind, it is almost a sure bet the same will hold true for the reader.
If this happens, I consider the possibility of a series with the next book playing off the secondary who is so strong. If this feels right, then I will lay the ground work in the first book for the new book.
However, if the character is not strong enough or I have no interest in a series or just a sequel, rewriting to tone down the secondary becomes an option. Either way, the secondary should not overshadow the primary.
Writing tip 6: How to create tension in a scene. The last couple of writers groups I have lead have centered on creating tension. With the abundance of books and movies available, a writer is besieged by plots that either fall short of impact or slam the reader in the belly with power.
When tension doesn’t doesn’t deliver a punch the reader often feels cheated. Cheated readers either skip pages, never a good reaction, or put the book aside and never finish it. That is the worse possible result for all the hours you spend creating your story.
The first thing I recommend for any writer is to think heat seeking missile when writing a scene. The target is tension and your words are the missile. Stay on target. No detours with descriptions or dialogue and no popping around with point of view. Stay on target!
Using the character from tip 5, let’s look at a tense scene with little impact first.
Example: “I broke up with Jimmy last night.” Linda clicked her drink to the rim of her friend’s glass.
“Why? I thought you loved him”
“He cheated on me. He lied.”
In this scene, the reader can certainly follow the sequence of events but the impact is muted because the action is second hand. In other words Linda is telling someone, her friend, about the missile hitting the target. The friend is not in the room, is not living through that moment of betrayal. Even if description is added, such as the example below, the scene does not have as much impact.
Writing tip 5: When to expand a conversation, a bit of action into a full scene. As a writer and as a leader of a writing group, I get asked this question a lot. My answer, although simple, is sometimes confusing to many.
The simple answer is every thing should be a scene. A book is nothing but scenes hooked together with transitions.
Whenever a writer relates information third hand, the information usually loses impact for the reader.
Example: “I broke up with Jimmy last night.” Linda clicked her drink to the rim of her friend’s glass.
“Why? I thought you loved him”
“He cheated on me. He lied.”
In this scene, the reader can certainly follow the sequence of events but the impact is muted. A little description could be added to the scene as in the next example.
“I broke up with Jimmy last night.” Linda clicked her drink to the rim of her friend’s glass. She wouldn’t shed any more tears. Not tonight.
“Why? I thought you loved him” Kelly watched her friend, worried by the calm expression. Linda usually showed her emotions but not tonight.
“He cheated on me. He lied.” She got the words out calmly but they tasted like acid on her tongue.
Now the scene has a bit more punch. Is it enough? Or would it have more impact if the reader lived through the confrontation between Linda and her lover?
Linda stared at the earring laying on the sheet on her side of the bed. She could hear Jimmy talking to her but his words didn’t register. The earring wasn’t hers. It was too expensive for one thing. She watched her hand slowly reach down and pick up the elegant gold and diamond loop. The light sparkled on the gems and flickered in her eyes. She turned and the light caught fire on the diamond on her left finger. The ring Jimmy had put there just an hour before was a lie.
She walked toward him. He smiled as he reached for her. Before he could touch her, she handed him the earring. She watched his confusion as he stared at the gems in his palm. His expression turned to surprise then irritation. When he looked at her she could see him calculating how to reach her. She hated his ability to read people with as much depth as she had always admired the same trait. He had used her and she hadn’t seen it, hadn’t suspected it.
“I guess your girlfriend forgot something.” She slipped his ring off her finger. “Or maybe you just got us mixed up. Am I the other woman or is she?” She could feel the rage of betrayal building but she would be damned if she would give him the satisfaction. Because his hand was still open between them, she dropped the ring on the earring. “Maybe you meant to give this to her.”
“I broke it off this afternoon. I knew you were the one I wanted. I had to tell her and I did,” he explained quickly.
She glanced back at the bed. “You know I should probably ask before or after you had sex with her. But you know what? I don’t care.” She watched him take the words with all the reaction of a slap in the face.
She smiled faintly. Score one for her. She might be bleeding but she wasn’t showing him the wound. “You don’t like that. Am I supposed to be crying now? Are you supposed to be holding me, telling me how much you love me?” She tipped her head as she read the shock in his eyes. He really thought he was that good a lover. He really thought he could use her this way. She picked up her handbag, very glad she had shed absolutely no clothes. She would have walked out naked but that kind of exit wasn’t necessary.
He caught her arm. She looked down then up as her free hand connected with the side of his face. The crack of flesh to flesh shattered the silence. She hadn’t even known she could hit anyone. She knew him, knew how he worked. What she had admired in him was now a threat she would be unwise to ignore. He hating losing.
“Touch me in any way again, personally, professionally or physically and I will share this little scene with your world. You know you won’t like that. You want the corner office. From the looks of that earring, I would say she is a better bet than a woman with ambition and the determination to succeed. Cut your losses. I am.” She nodded once when she saw that he understood. His hand dropped and she walked out, closing the door softly behind her.
The impact of this scene is much stronger than a recounting over drinks with a friend. The reader is drawn more deeply into the life of both characters. Even without a detailed analysis this small scene shows a great deal about each person. As much as possible create scenes with information and impact. If the scene has both, the reader is involved in the story. If only information is present, it is easy to simply skip pages. I, as a writer, strive to haul my readers into the story from the first word to the last. I want them to feel the emotions, the action of the story. I prefer a reaction to the disinterest of page hopping.
Writing Tip 4: Point of View In our last POD writers meeting, we discussed point of view. The majority of books are written in third person point of view. This POV gives the author the ability to have a more complete picture of the story being written. If a writer works in first person POV, everything that occurs in the story has to happen in front of the character. I have created examples of both below. He/she is third person and I is first person.
Third person: She watched the man in the mask, aware that beyond the almost airless bank lobby, the police were working to secure the the perimeter and make a connection with the robber. The one day she had taken off to take care of business, the one day she had left her son in the care of a baby sitter, Thank God himself, she was caught up in a robbery attempt. She lay on the floor, sweating, feeling the gun at her ankle, biting into her skin. Outside she knew Brian waited, cursing, praying. She could feel his fear. She knew his hand would be steady on the trigger of his rifle, Maggie. She knew, no matter what he felt, he would shut it down to get the job done if the robber continued to ignore all attempts of the hostage negotiator to talk to him.
She flinched as the shot exploded in the room. The woman beside her screamed as the robber slumped to the floor. The teller the robber had intended to shoot was alive because Brian had not hesitated, had not missed. She dropped her head to her folded arms. All the reasons she had for not accepting him into her life faded into nothing beneath the truth of what he had done, the lives he had saved with one shot.
First person: I saw the man point the gun at the teller and pull the trigger. I could hear the explosion of the bullet, the scream of the woman beside me as we lay huddled on the floor of the bank and waited to die. I didn’t want to die, to leave my child alone.
I watched the robber crumple to the floor. The teller started crying. She was alive. The man in the mask lay unmoving. I turned my head and saw the shattered front window. The shot had come from outside the building. Was it Brian?
As you can see, the scene is the same but the presentation is very different. I prefer third person because of the range it gives me to explore more than just my own view of the world as the character telling the story. Third person also allows an easier switch to another view of the story than the main character. A secondary character can have thoughts and opinions not just expressed in dialogue.
In character driven books, the usual allowable split of POV is 70% for the main character and 30% for the secondary. In a romance that would be 70 for the woman and 30 for the male. This multiple POV allows more scope for writer, more description, more input for the reader to enjoy.
However, many readers prefer first person POV because it seems more intimate. A few writers use both. No matter which viewpoint you choose as a writer, be consistent. The reader needs consistency to enjoy fully the story you are writing for them. Bouncing around with POV is very annoying and easily disrupts the flow and pace of the unfolding plot.
As always, attention to the technique of writing is important but your passion, your enjoyment of the plot you have created will engage the reader.
Writing Tip 3: Dialogue is critical to showing the reader who the character is. Everything from description of themselves or another character to action occurring in the story can be conveyed in words. There are some important things to remember when creating dialogue.
1. Characters do not inhabit an empty space. A reader can’t see what is in your mind. Placing characters in settings with no description or with the description bunched in paragraph form is often not the best way to present to the reader what a room looks like.
James turned away from the ocean view beyond the window. He looked at his sister as she stood beside his desk. The office door was closed, giving him the privacy he needed. “Jilly, don’t do this.”
2. Characters are not stick figures who don’t breathe or move. A character is not just a moving mouth with a tongue to form words. He twitches, he groans, he curses, he drops things.
Jilly made a face then threw herself down in the visitor’s chair. “You are such a stickler.” She sighed loudly even as she cut her eyes to his, watching for a softening in his big brother attitude.
3. Dialogue can tell the reader about the plot or some upcoming scene, problem or crisis, etc. A story is always evolving, just like life itself. People, characters talk about what is happening or will be happening around them.
“You’re talking about calling off a wedding that has been a year in the making. You said you loved him.” He raked his fingers through his hair as he stared at her mutinous face. “You’re thirty years old not some flighty kid.”
4. Dialogue conveys emotion. In each of the examples above, even without the text, you can feel the emotion, to some extent, of the speaker. When the text is added, the dialogue is emphasized.
“He lied to me about his work. Even his name is a lie,” she said flatly. His lies had kept her blind to the man she thought existed, the man she was going to marry.
Now, let’s see what happens when the text is omitted.
“Jilly, don’t do this.”
“You are such a stickler.”
“You’re talking about calling off a wedding that has been a year in the making. You said you loved him. You’re thirty years old not some flighty kid.”
“He lied to me about his work. Even his name is a lie.”
As you can see, the scene is not nearly as emotional or informative. Add the he said and she said at the end of each exchange and it is almost flat. As a reader, I find this kind of delivery really doesn’t engage my interest. Turning the page just to skip this kind of thing is very tempting. Turning the page because I really want to know what is going to happen is not even in my mind.
However, there are moments in some types of plots where straight dialogue is useful. High tension action is one of them.
“We need a way out.”
“Even if we had one, Joey isn’t up for the trek.”
“I leave no man behind. I’ll carry on my back if I have to.”
The emotion and urgency of the situation is in the words themselves. The short, choppy delivery is also a way to convey the tension. If this method is used, he said/she said need not be at the end or beginning of each exchange but the writer should not do a whole page of dialogue with no identification of the speakers. I use four as an easy unidentified dialogue. In other words, no more than four exchanges before I put something in to let the reader keep up with who is speaking.
Dialogue is a lot of fun to write and gives the reader a lot of information when it is done well. Dialogue used as a page filler is not the best way to create a story and it won’t leave the average reader wanting more.
As always, I love feedback. Let me know how this tip works or doesn’t work for you. Should you feel the need to address specifics and don’t want your material in this more public forum, you may email me directly with the form below. Depending on the day and the number of submissions I receive, the reply may take a day or two. I do answer everyone. Have fun. No matter how frustrating writing can be sometimes, it can also be a lot of fun. Enjoy!
Writing Tip 2: The first writing tip we discussed was centered on building the character. This tip is all about layering. Layering the character is a term of my own so I will do my best to tell and show what I mean. The character we worked with is more than just a list of physical descriptions. Emotional make up, back story, present choices and future needs are the basic layers of every character. The more the reader understands the character, the deeper the reader becomes involved with the character’s needs, wants and actions. Below, is listed the basic layers and examples of how to do it. Since we have begun with this character, I will use a bit of what we have developed.
1. Describe the character–full name, gender, height, hair & eye color, skin and build too. Ex: Pale skin, freckles, slender, dark blue eyes, tawny hair, slender limbs, curves in all the right places. Most likely you are already feeling this must be a female. I’ll leave you to pick a name. Don’t drop all of this description in one paragraph. It can be eased into the text in dialogue as well as prose. Example: “I love your blue eyes. Mine are so pale and yours are so dark.”
2. Know the back story of the character you are creating. Family? Career? Relationship history? Trauma? All of these go into making your character more than just a name and description on the page. If you don’t know the answers to these things how will your reader understand the person you are creating? As appropriate, drop bits of information about the back story into the text. Example: “I don’t fly. I was in plane that crashed. I was one of the few survivors and I spent weeks in the hospital recovering. I can’t even go inside an airport.” She shook her head, frustrated by her fear but knowing all the frustration in the world would not change the horror of the hours it took the first responders to extract her from the wreckage.
3. Present choices will be career, relationship partners or family, living arrangements. Many times, a partner relationship colors a living or career arrangement. Example: She stared beyond the window, deliberately looking out on the ocean rather than the beach so many floors below. The moon blazed a silver path across the sea. A peaceful setting, even a romantic one. She had never been farther from either mood. She should be feeling sleepy but her mind was filled with too many images, images she could no longer ignore. She could hear James sliding from the bed behind her. She turned to face him in the moon washed darkness. He had lied to her. There was another woman. He had called her name tonight. He had been buried deep within her and called another woman’s name. Her husband. The man she had trusted with her heart and body had betrayed her.
4. Future choices grow out of present situations, in real life and certainly in the pages of a story. Look at the character we are developing. She is obviously going to confront the man sharing her bed. She wants more than he is giving her. She needs more. Look at her depth of betrayal in just the few words you have read. What will she do now? How will she do it? Example: “Come back to bed.” He walked toward her, the sexy smile that had always drawn her closer on his face.
She stood still, seeing what she had never noticed before. He didn’t even realize she was upset. “Are you talking to me or Nina?” she asked coolly.
He stopped, his smile dying, his eyes sharpening in the gloom. “What the hell are you talking about?” he demanded.
“I am talking about the woman who was in bed with us tonight. Or was she the only one in bed with you and I was just the substitute body?” She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to hold at bay the cold of betrayal. She had no idea what the future would hold. She had thought she was building a life with a man she could trust, have children with and with whom she could share all her hopes and dreams.
I am stopping here, hopefully leaving you on the edge of your imagination. You want to know more. What is she going to do after she kicks him out? What is he going to do? The future has a very real impact on whatever kind of story you are writing. This could be a romance or a murder mystery. What would happen if he suddenly turns up dead in a few pages? What would happen if she runs into Nina at the mall?
As you can see layering the character is critical to having the reader hanging onto your book with and his or her imagination. If you are waiting to turn the next page as a writer, your reader will be as well. As always, I love feedback. Let me know how this tip works or doesn’t work for you. Should you feel the need to address specifics and don’t want your material in this more public forum, you may email me directly with the form below. Depending on the day and the number of submissions I receive, the reply may take a day or two. I do answer everyone. Have fun. No matter how frustrating writing can be sometimes, it can also be a lot of fun. Enjoy!
Writing Tip 1: Character building is often hard for a new writer. Because you see or feel the character in your head, it is often easy to leave out a great deal of what the reader may need to have the same connection. The list below may be of help to you when setting up the character for the reader.
1. Describe the character–full name, gender, height, hair & eye color, skin and build too. Ex: Pale skin, freckles, slender, dark blue eyes, tawny hair, slender limbs, curves in all the right places. Most likely you are already feeling this must be a female. I’ll leave you to pick a name.
2. Don’t drop all of this description in one paragraph. It can be eased into the text in dialogue as well as prose. Example: “I love your blue eyes. Mine are so pale and yours are so dark.”
3. Know the back story of the character you are creating. Family? Career? Relationship history? Trauma? All of these go into making your character more than just a name and description on the page. If you don’t know the answers to these things how will your reader understand the person you are creating?
4. As appropriate, drop bits of information about the back story into the text. Example: “I don’t fly. I was in plane that crashed. I was one of the few survivors and I spent weeks in the hospital recovering. I can’t even go inside an airport.” She shook her head, frustrated by her fear but knowing all the frustration in the world would not change the horror of the hours it took the first responders to extract her from the wreckage.
As you can see, the character is becoming a real person on the page. Without knowing the story or the character’s name you can feel for her. This involvement with the character is what helps to pull the reader into your story. A great plot is important but the characters who live within it are the ones who make the action work.
The next tip will be on layering the character. As always, I love feedback. Let me know how this tip works or doesn’t work for you. Should you feel the need to address specifics and don’t want your material in this more public forum, you may email me directly with the form below. Depending on the day and the number of submissions I receive, the reply may take a day or two. I do answer everyone. Have fun. No matter how frustrating writing can be sometimes, it can also be a lot of fun. Enjoy!